Participation is a form of control, and 15 other things I learned in Trondheim

Norway Curling Pants

Three days with CenSES in Trondheim, Norway.
Here are some things I learned:

  1. Who’s got the gold? Norway’s got the gold. And it’s distributed. Every monetary transaction is thick with some variety of social glue. There’s an in-your-face distribution happening five times per day per person. And once I turned off my internal currency calculator it felt okay.
  2. All of which means everybody, every day, literally buys into Society. Maybe.
  3. But they don’t talk about the oil so much.
  4. 99% of Norway’s electricity comes from hydro. That must be nice.
  5. A smart grid switch-on has been legislated for 2017 (That’s going to be tough).
  6. But nobody knows why. End users don’t want it. Energy producers don’t get it. Grid operators don’t want to pay for it. Big plays on end-use energy in this energy-rich environment make no sense. There’s a study in there somewhere on how policy motivations form, are enacted, and then completely forgotten about.
  7. “We’re Norway, we don’t need renewables.” True quote. Only slightly paraphrased.
  8. Norwegian academics are beyond hospitable. Takk!!!
  9. The locals are *very* proud of Gro Brundtland and Norway’s international climate leadership. Okay, but guys, about that oil…
  10. Turns out Norway, and not Dame Street Dublin, is the home of Spar. The “Spar roll” however is definitely an evolutionary Irish innovation.
  11. There’s a tonne of interesting research to be done criss-crossing multiple levels of governance, innovation and a (sub?)politics that is increasingly distributed. Some of this is going on at CenSES.
  12. Rohracher’s work on civil society orgs gets this. So does Raven, Smith and Kern’s [pdf] work on the protective spaces of innovation niches. Though lots of work still to be done on empowerment.
  13. I’m sceptical of Sørensen’s reiteration of Jasanoff’s (2011) call for policy makers/advisors/actors to replace ‘truth’ with ‘relevance’ when going about their evidence-based policy making business. Not sceptical of its merit, but its execution.
  14. Bruno Latour can also write brief and to the point papers. His response and de Vries’ initial challenge ($) on sub politics worth checking out. So nice to have other people set reading once in a while.
  15. A week of -10 and sunny beats +5 and wet.
  16. Participation is a form of control.

And one question for further research maybe

  • Can civil society organisations provide oppositional forms from and integrated distributed centre, do they need to remain at, or partly at the edges, or none of the above? More to follow…

The Media’s Climate Change Evolution

from the NY Times
from the NY Times

Two related pieces in the Columbia Journalism Review over the past week on energy, climate change and the press’s role in covering the issue. And in my mind it is one issue, not two. This is a great example of what makes CJR such a great resource.
They have the ability to step back and look at the media landscape as it pertains many subjects in politics and finance asking the questions of journalists and bloggers that we don’t ask ourselves enough.

Curtis Brainard pulls apart pieces from the Pew Research Center, the NY Times, the LA Times and PBS. His thesis, that it may now makes sense for journalists to pull back from making planet saving proclamations in support of climate change action and instead frame the discourse around helping keep the pennies in the pocket of Joe the Plumber and other downstream media consumers.
Brainard pulls through some useful looking data from Revkin in the NY Times illustrating this. The fact of the matter is that people have bigger financial worries all of a sudden. In Brainard’s words:

A poll released last week by the Pew Research Center found that addressing the nation’s energy problems ranks sixth among a list of twenty voter concerns, with sixty percent of those polled agreeing that it should be a “top priority” for government. On the other hand, concern for protecting the environment and dealing with global warming has declined precipitously in the last few years, with those issues ranking seventeenth and dead last, respectively. The takeaway message for journalists is that those “stewardship” frames will not be sufficient in terms of galvanizing support for clean energy. In the pursuit of public engagement, the press would be better advised to link sustainability issues to economic growth and “green” jobs.

There’s plenty of other good shout-outs in the piece but here’s the real take-away:

The economics of sustainability is clearly a frame that is of particular interest to readers and audiences these days. Nova spends relatively little time discussing the impacts of global warming, which are presented only as contextual background. Though there remain many points of climate science that the media can and should explore, this seems a positive development because it implies that the press has accepted the basic threat of warming and is now prepared to address the cost and feasibility of various solutions

So far so good (perhaps). Brainard returns to a similar theme a few days later on CJR.org. Now here’s the really interesting part from my perspective.

One of the things that history will remember about the coverage of climate change is that, not unlike the Iraq War, the press itself became an important part of the story, largely due to faulty reporting at its outset….But, as CJR contributing editor Cristine Russell pointed out in a recent feature story, the fine points of science and technology must now be communicated to the political and business reporters who have been assigned to the coverage of climate solutions.

There’s no arguing that our business reporters need to know these points inside out. In fact, more importantly, the men and women inside the Treasury making the decisions these reporters report on need to know the facts. But all that doesn’t hide a big question that arises from the above thesis. Should be we be allowing the business pages abstract the world’s climate change problems into a more palatable, or certainly more applicable, problem for our media consumers. In other words should we concentrate on a set of self-centered reasons and try change human behaviour by appealing to people’s financial interests?

Many would argue that the end justifies the means, and in the case of climate change the situation is so dire and so urgent that we can dismiss only a very few options. But the media  has a role to tell it like it is. To inform us that our actions and in action are having a direct and catastrophic impact on the world. If an Obama stimulus promotes green jobs and clean tech all the better, but let’s keep the climate change horse running in front of the economic cart.